It would be easy to describe Davis Love III as a local guy who made good. But he’s so much more than that. A golf pedigree that included his father as a former professional and one of the top teachers in the world and a low-handicap mom put “DL3” at the top of prodigies expected to ascend to the top of the game. With prodigious length (for the time) coming out of high school at Glynn Academy in Brunswick, Davis went to the University of North Carolina before turning pro and joining the PGA Tour.
“When you start this journey you don’t think of the Hall of Fame. At 20-years old I just wanted a to have a job, wanted to play golf and hoped to win one golf tournament,” Davis told me at the World Golf Hall of Fame on Tuesday. Love was at the Hall with three other members of the 2017 Hall of Fame class (Meg Mallon, Ian Woosnam, and Lorena Ochoa) to preview their induction in September and hold a panel discussion for media and fans. (The late Henry Longhurst fills out the class).
His resume is much longer than just winning a tournament. Winning 21 times including a major championship (the 1998 PGA Championship), two Players, four Heritages and a PGA Tour win when he was 51 years old in 2015 are only a sprinkling of his victories. Add in two appearances as the Ryder Cup captain and it adds up to a Hall of Fame career.
“To go in with such icons of the game, I say it’s humbling,” Love explained during our discussion. “To just be mentioned, and to go in with this class. Friends of mine, friends I’ve competed with. I’m honored to be a part of it. I didn’t see myself as a leader in the game, it’s an amazing class.”
Being able to take skills as a golfer and use them as a touring professional takes some adjustment. There are plenty of great players who couldn’t adjust to the lifestyle and what it takes to grind it out week after week. Love says that’s one of the first things he learned when he joined the Tour.
“You have to learn it’s so much more than playing golf. Dealing with the travel, family, different conditions, the celebrity status. Some guys can handle it, some can’t”
Based on the era that he played, Jack Nicklaus was the first professional athlete and golfer who was celebrated for his ability and willingness to balance his “job”and his family life.
“He was a great example,” Davis said of Nicklaus’ ability to be the best player in the world and still be a part of his children’s lives. Love and his wife Robin looked to Jack and Barbara Nicklaus as a guidepost. “This is how you live a life on the Tour. You have to balance. I wanted to be at my daughter’s horse shows, my son’s golf tournaments. I wanted to go skiing and snowboarding. I think my kids would say we accomplished that.”
Coming off a broken collarbone, Love has known his share of injuries away from the golf course but says he’ll be fresh when he returns to playing, soon.
“I’m going to play a lot on the regular tour this year, I’m exempt lifetime (for having 20 PGA Tour wins) but I don’t want to take up a spot. I’ll go play with my friends on the Senior Tour. I’ve missed three months here and there in the past couple of years so I’ll be fresh when I do come out.”
Talking with Davis, his competitive desire is still obvious and during both of his stints as Davis Cup captain he was hoping to play his way onto his own team. “But then reality set in,” he said with a laugh. “But there’s that competitiveness. You want to make an impact as a player or as the captain and be a part of the team.”
In the upcoming Presidents Cup in New Jersey (the week of the Hall of Fame induction), Love will be an assistant captain to Steve Stricker. He’ll also serve as an assistant to Jim Furyk in Paris in 2018 for the Ryder Cup.
“It’s different,” he noted, playing the Ryder Cup in Europe. That’s why Jim is perfect for Paris; He can handle the extra attention, the extra travel and the fact that it’s an away game. Playing in Europe is that much tougher, especially since we were able to win one last year,” Davis added with a smile.
So he’ll be wearing headsets and talking to players, and maybe even do some TV (Don’t be surprised if he shows up on NBC during the Players in May.) But it’s with clubs in his hand that he’s hoping to still feel the pressure of being on the leaderboard.
“Golf is the one sport, maybe auto racing, you can last a long time if you stay fit and stay confident. We saw Greg Norman and Tom Watson almost win majors. Raymond Floyd won in his 50’s; Sam Snead won a bunch as he got older. I love playing and I don’t want to give it up.”